John E. Martell Jr. obituary

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News
Photo of Dr. John E. Martell Jr.

Dr. John E. Martell Jr.

John E. Martell Jr., retired assistant dean of the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University, died at home in Kalamazoo Nov. 12. He was 71.

Martell is best remembered for his dedication to students in the honors college, particularly his many years of advising and mentoring them as well as helping them to apply for America's most prestigious and competitive national scholarships.

As late as June 2009, Martell was still serving on a temporary basis as an advisor for the college and shepherding students through the difficult process of competing for those and other major awards.

Due in large part to his concerted efforts during the past decade, WMU students have had unprecedented success vying for such premier awards as the Morris K. Udall, Barry M. Goldwater and Gates Cambridge scholarships.

John E. Martell Jr.

Martell retired in 2005 after 21 years of continuous full-time service to the University, but he was first professionally affiliated with WMU in 1970 as a part-time humanities instructor for what was then the College of General Studies.

Martell was alternately employed in part- and full-time faculty positions through 1983, then took time out to professionally write and sculpt. He was rehired as a part-time instructor in 1984, and joined the professional staff full time later that year as an academic advisor in the College of Arts and Sciences.

In 1988, Martell was named to the newly created position of assistant to the dean of the Lee Honors College and in 2000, was named assistant dean of the college.

He became associated with the Lee Honors College in the early 1980s, when Dr. Samuel I. Clark, the college's founding dean, invited him to teach some of his general studies courses. Martell continued to teach in various fields throughout his entire tenure at the University.

In his roles with the honors college, he coordinated cluster courses, taught courses on Russian culture, and was involved with the Latin American studies seminar, to name just a few of his specific activities.

Martell earned bachelor's and master's degrees from WMU in 1965 and 1966, respectively. He also earned a doctoral degree from the University of Michigan in 1981.

Prior to coming to WMU, he worked as a substitute teacher in the Kalamazoo Public Schools; a resident advisor and humanities assistant at Grinnell College; an instructor for Jobs Corps in Battle Creek, Mich.; and an English instructor at Northern Michigan University.

Martell's lifelong interests and formal training were in the humanities and fine arts. He was a longtime scholar in the field of Russian culture, and for a time, directed WMU study tours of the old Soviet Union.

He also was an accomplished self-taught sculptor as well as the author of novels and short stories and, more recently, of collections of haiku and tanka poetry. Martell dedicated one of those recent published collections, "Broken Boughs," to Barbara O'Hara, his beloved companion who preceded him in death, and to the late Diether H. Haenicke, former WMU President.


No public services are being held by the family, but Lee Honors College officials are planning an on-campus memorial service.

The on-campus service is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, in the Lee Honors College lounge, and will include remarks at 6:30 p.m.